The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is largest children’s museum in the world, attracting visitors from across the country who shell out as much as $82 for a family of four.
But this gem sits in the midst of one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, where just one in four adults has a college degree and nearly half of families with children live in poverty.
That’s why museum leaders decided that they needed to do more to help kids close to home, said Anthony Bridgeman, who runs community programs for the museum. Kids in the surrounding neighborhoods already get free admission but now the museum has launched a program called Mid-North Promise that aims to help neighborhood families further their education and achieve their goals.
Among the 33 families currently participating are a man who needed help finding a new school for his grandchildren, a mother who needed a job that would reimburse her college tuition and a woman who needed childcare so she could complete her pharmacy technician training. But the museum is particularly focused on one group: Teens who were part of the state’s 21st Century Scholars program, which provides qualified high school graduates with free tuition to Indiana colleges and universities.
“We have a very transitory neighborhood in general,” Bridgeman said. “I would like to see … more young people from our neighborhood engaged in seeing a future … a big, bright future that those folks say, ‘Hey, you know what, there’s something really good happening here, and I’m going to plant roots and stay in the neighborhood.’ “
Thousands of Indiana students have benefited from the lucrative 21st Century Scholars program but some eligible students don’t know about it. Others have struggled to meet application requirements.
The state reported last spring that the vast majority of students in the program were in danger of missing out on scholarships because they were not meeting new requirements, but Mid-North Promise staff are determined to make sure that eligible students in the neighborhoods around the museum are able to get the scholarships they deserve.
Caseworker Tremayne Horne is now working with 26 high schoolers who are eligible for the scholarships, including Stacia and Simone Clemons.
When the Clemons sisters signed up to become 21st Century Scholars in middle school, their mother Dennicka Kendall assumed they were set — stay out of trouble and keep a high GPA, and they would get the scholarship.
But when Horne met with the girls — Stacia is a senior and Simone is a junior at Crispus Attucks High School — he discovered that they were behind on meeting requirements such as personality tests that need to be completed and community service projects that must to be fulfilled.
“A lot of the requirements were kind of sent to me … later,” Kendall said. “I didn’t even know that they had so many requirements.”
Now that they’ve joined Mid-North Promise, Horne has helped both sisters get back on track toward earning the scholarship. He also is working with Stacia Clemons, a senior, on her plans for college and the future, helping her make sense of applications and financial aid deadlines as well helping her think through her decisions about where to apply.
When she and her mother got into an argument because Clemons was unsure what she wants to do for college or a career, it was Horne who she called.
“I was kind of freaking out,” Clemons said. “He made me feel a lot better.”
In addition to helping teens get 21st Century Scholarships, the Mid-North Promise program will also offer $2,500 scholarships for families, Bridgeman said.
The Mid-North Promise is currently funded by grants from the Lumina Foundation and Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust and sponsored by Old National Bank. The museum is looking to raise nearly $4.6 million to support the program longterm. That includes $3 million for a scholarship fund and nearly $735,000 to pay for family education and caseworkers like Horne.
The program is modeled on efforts like the Kalamazoo Promise, which offer free college tuition to graduates of Kalamazoo public school. That program has spawned copy cats across the country in cities like Syracuse, New Haven and Detroit.
But while most Promise programs are focused on money for college, the museum is also working with parents to help achieve their goals.
Horne is helping Kendall, the Clemons’ mother, finish her college degree and prepare to buy a house, for example.
“A lot of people come to the program solely focused on their kids and how to basically make a better life for their kids,” Horne said. “For them to be able to sit down and go over their goals and how they want to better themselves, I think has really been a big impact for them.”